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ADL Priorities for UN Reform

Posted: September 9, 2005

The Anti-Defamation League views the September World Summit and its accompanying reform deliberations with cautious optimism.  We welcome the recognition of the international body of the need to examine its priorities and operations and hope that this process will lead to a more effective, responsible and just United Nations. 


ADL believes however, that reform of the United Nations will not be complete unless there is an examination and correction of the manner in which the State of Israel is treated.   


While the United Nations was instrumental in the founding of the Jewish State, for decades Israel's treatment at the UN has been characterized by ostracism, double standards, and knee-jerk condemnations. A myriad of anti-Israel resolutions is passed blindly, year after year. Six of ten "emergency sessions" held by the UN General Assembly since its inception have concerned Israel – while none have been held in response to events in Rwanda, Yugoslavia, or Sudan.


General Assembly resolutions have also created an entire Palestinians infrastructure with four committees focused specifically on an anti-Israel agenda. No other country or entity has such exclusively dedicated departments and committees.  The committees include the Committee for the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) and the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories – both established through General Assembly resolutions.  These committees are supported by the Division of Palestinian Affairs Rights (DPR) in the Secretariat's Department of Political Affairs.  Finally, there is the Special Information Program on the "Question of Palestine" in the Secretariat's Department of Public Information.  These committees not only waste stretched UN resources (their annual budget is $2.5 million), but propagate wildly biased programs and information about the Palestinian-Israel conflict that ignore positive progress in the region, and contradict the UN Secretary General and Security Council positions on Israel.  (A recent conference sponsored by the CEIRPP concluded with a call for sanction against Israel.)


The UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva notoriously focuses undue attention on Israel, while ignoring serious and immediate human rights outrages around the world.  In its annual session, only Israel has its own agenda item (item 8) to discuss its alleged human rights violation.  All other countries are deal with in one comprehensive agenda item (item 9).  The Commission includes nations with reprehensible human rights records such as Syria, Zimbabwe, Libya and Sudan.   The Commission also appoints "Special Rapporteurs" who are meant to investigate specific issues of concern.  There have been incidents of these rapporteurs investigating issues related to Palestinians, or even to "thematic" issues, including food and poverty making outrageously incendiary anti-Israel statements with no recourse taken to discipline them.   


Finally, while Israel was allowed to join a regional group in 2000 – the Western European and Others Group (WEOG) – thereby permitting Israel to participate in UN activities in New York, Israel is excluded from serving on any regional group at the UN's Geneva-based operations, including serving as a member of the Human Rights Commission. 


How UN Reform Can Address Anti-Israel Inequities: 


Secretary General Kofi Annan's blueprint for reform includes some steps that could begin to address the anti-Israel inequities at the UN.   These initiatives, however, are only the beginning.  Additional steps by UN member nations must augment these initial reforms to create a more effective body and a more hospitable environment for Israel.


  • Address the myriad of duplicative and counter-productive anti-Israel resolutions through a streamlined and focused General Assembly. 
    Annan calls for a revitalization of the General Assembly as the chief policy making and decision making body of the UN, through the streamlining of the GA's agenda and procedures, and strengthening the role of the GA President.  He also calls for a commitment by member nations to make the GA more relevant.  Enhancing the relevance and effectiveness of the General Assembly and its agenda must include a process for the removal of redundant resolutions, particularly the annual roster of anti-Israel resolutions. 


  • Abolish the anti-Israel Palestinian committees. 
    Annan has proposed that the General Assembly "review all mandates older than five years to see whether the activities concerned are still genuinely needed or whether the resources assigned to them can be reallocated in response to new and emerging challenges."  The General Assembly thus has the ability to directly examine the agenda activities of the four Palestinian committees and close them down.  The $2.5 million annual budget could be redirected to Palestinian development projects.  A review of old mandates could also provide the means to reduce or eliminate the annual litany of anti-Israel resolutions. 


  • Ensure all member nations, including the State of Israel, are treated equally and are allowed to participate equally.
    Annan's reform proposal call for the active involvement and commitment to the UN system by member nations.  However, Israel, unlike other member nations, is prevented from fully participating in the UN system since it is barred by Arab countries from joining the Asian Regional Group, and only has partial status in the WEOG group.  There is no justification for the inability of Israel to serve on the UN Human Rights Commission or to participate in other UN-Geneva based programs.  UN reform must thus include a framework for all member states to participate equally and fully in the body's deliberations, governance and administration.


  • Make the United Nations Human Rights Commission focus less on Israel and more on severe human rights crises.
    Annan has proposed a fundamental transformation of this body, saying that "declining credibility and professionalism" has led to a "credibility deficit" which "cases a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole,"  And that "states have sought membership in the Commission not to strengthen human rights, but to protect themselves against criticism or to criticize others."  Annan proposes replacing the existing Commission with a smaller Human Rights Council whose membership (unlike the regional group representation of the Commission) will be voted directly by the General Assembly by a two thirds majority.  Annan leaves the details of numbers, terms etc. to the General Assembly to determine, but notes that those elected to the Human Rights Council "should undertake to abide by the highest human rights standards.  This reform could potentially transform the manner in which Israel is dealt with.  While the Human Rights Council will likely still deal with human rights issues involving Israel, a smaller and more responsible membership might approach Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a more balanced and objective manner.  It could potentially ensure that its special rapporteurs do the same, or discipline them for inappropriate actions or statements.  Moreover, with direct voting of membership in the General Assembly, there is the possibility that Israel itself might one day serve as a member of the Human Rights Council – which is impossible under the current system.


  • Develop a comprehensive and clear definition of terrorism.   
    To date, the United Nations has stopped short of defining terrorism, and thus has been unable to develop a comprehensive convention on terrorism.  Much of the impediment to the development of such a definition has been Arab and Muslim states insistence on watering it down with qualifications regarding "state sponsored terrorism" and language on "legitimate responses to occupation."   Annan rightly notes that such debates must end (noting that "the right to resist occupation….cannot include the right to deliberately kill or maim civilians")


  • Ensure effective international response to genocide.  
    All too often the international community, and particularly the United Nations, has been ineffective in confronting and stopping acts of genocide.  There is ample evidence from the Holocaust six decades ago, to recent outrages in Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur to point to international action that was too little too late.  Annan proposes an "embrace" of the "responsibility to protect", so in situations when governments do not protect their own populations – or indeed abuse their own population – the international community will rise to the occasion and  use "diplomatic, humanitarian and other methods."  Additional action, including the "enforcement action" can also be pursued. 



UN Reform: An Overview of the Issues



Over 170 leaders will gather at the United Nations for a World Summit during the opening of the 60th session of the United Nations General Assembly to discuss institutional reform September 14-16. 


There have long been calls for reforming the United Nations, both organizationally and functionally.  In March, 2005, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan issued a proposal for "achievable" reform, entitled "In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All."   The proposal is divided into four areas:  freedom from want; freedom from fear; freedom to live in dignity; strengthening the United Nations. 


Annan's proposal is the basis of a blueprint for reform – called the outcome document - being prepared by the President of the General Assembly, Jean Ping, in consultation with member nations. 


Key Annan Reform Proposals:


  • Freedom from Want: 
    Confronting issues of poverty, illness, environmental protection and development priorities.  Developed nations to eliminate tariffs and to allot 0.7% of national income for aid to undeveloped countries, who in turn must work to end corruption and build democratic institutions (as per the 2000 "Millennium Development" plan, which aims to halve extreme global poverty by 2015).

  • Freedom from Fear:  
    Confronting issues of war, weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, security and organized crime and corruption. Member nations to adopt a comprehensive, and straightforward definition of terrorism (in accordance with the "Comprehensive Convention On Terrorism").  Enhance the effectiveness of sanctions, peacekeeping forces.  Creation of a Peacebuilding Commission to help countries transition from war to peace.  Security Council to develop guidelines for use of force.

  • Freedom to Live in Dignity:
    Nations to take harsher and more concrete action against genocide, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.   UN to fully accept "the responsibility to protect" in cases of genocide and atrocities. Member nations to cooperate with the ICC, war tribunals etc. 

  • Strengthening the United Nations: 
    Structural reform of the organization, including the expansion of the Security Council to 24 members (with a possible option to add other permanent members without veto power), the creation of a Human Rights Council to supersede the discredited Human Rights Commission, and the streamlining of the Secretariat.  Secretariat reform would include a review of all mandates older than five years to ascertain relevance.  Also calls on the General Assembly to reform its agenda, committee process, debate procedures. 



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